U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders has rescinded his endorsement of Cenk Uygur for Congress a day after making it, as Uygur, under scrutiny for past misogynistic, homophobic, and racist comments, has decided not to accept any endorsements.
Uygur, founder and cohost of the progressive online show The Young Turks, got an important boost Thursday for his run to fill Katie Hill's U.S. House seat from California with the endorsement of the Vermont senator and presidential hopeful.
Hill's seat opened up when she resigned in October in the wake of a cyber exploitation campaign led by right-wing media, including revelations that Hill, who is bisexual, had engaged in a relationship with a campaign staffer, and accusations of an affair with a congressional staffer. Now Uygur, whose comments include calling women "inferior" and equating sexual assault with being gay, is vying for Hill's seat.
In his endorsement of 49-year-old Uygur, Sanders called him "one of the outstanding progressive journalists in our country," according to the Los Angeles Times.
"He has shown enormous courage in standing up to the greed and power of the corporate elite, and has spent his entire life fighting for justice and the needs of the working people of our country," Sanders said.
But Friday afternoon, Sanders issued a statement withdrawing the endorsement, The Daily Beast reports. "As I said yesterday, Cenk has been a longtime fighter against the corrupt forces in our politics," the senator said. "However, our movement is bigger than any one person. I hear my grassroots supporters who were frustrated and understand their concerns. Cenk today said he is rejecting all endorsements for his campaign, and I retract my endorsement."
Uygur had put out a statement minutes earlier saying he would no longer accept endorsements. He said "corporations, lobbyists, and special interest groups" had criticized Sanders for the endorsement, and he didn't want to subject Sanders to harm. "That's why I have decided that I will not be accepting any endorsements... The only endorsements I'll be accepting going forward is that of the voters," he said.
Meanwhile, Democrats including Rep. Nancy Pelosi, California Gov. Gavin Newsom, and Sens. Kamala Harris and Dianne Feinstein have all expressed support for Uygur's Democratic rival Christy Smith.
Soon after Sanders endorsed Uygur, videos of his problematic statements began resurfacing on Twitter.
Sexist statements have long been prevalent in Uygur's rhetoric, but in a segment on TheYoung Turks in 2010, he failed to recognize or acknowledge the difference between sexual assault and homosexuality, insisting that men who sexually abuse other men must be repressing homosexual urges. In the segment, Uygur's cohost Ana Kasparian explained to the audience that the crime they were discussing occurred on an oil rig where a man was sodomized with a piece of soap by another man.
"That's why I'm talking about repressed homosexuality," Uygur responded, feigning laughter. "Bob's gay, right? OK, let's do something in his ass."
Kasparian pointed out that sexual abuse is often used as a form of intimidation.
"They say it's about power," Uygur said. "But apparently, it's also a little bit about sex. Not in every case, but the ones where they are trying to put something in your ass, it's a little bit about sex."
Uygur has apologized for hateful things he's said, claiming he did it to to push buttons.
"The stuff I wrote back then was really insensitive and ignorant. If you read that today, what I wrote 18 years ago, and you're offended by it, you're 100 percent right. And anyone who is subjected to that material, I apologize to. And I deeply regret having written that stuff when I was a different guy," Uygur said in 2017 when there was a spotlight on his misogynistic comments.
"If someone said that today, I would heavily criticize them on the show and rightfully so, and I have. I've criticized myself over the years," he added. "I had not yet matured and I was still a conservative who thought that stuff was politically incorrect and edgy. When you read it now, it looks really, honestly, ugly. And it's very uncomfortable to read."
But he continued to spew problematic comments well into the 2010s when he was in his 40s.
In 2013, he rated women on a scale of how hot they would need to be in order for a man to let her "suck your dick."
That same year, he promoted bestiality as long as you are "pleasuring the animal," as if animals could consent. There he equated an animal's innate reaction to stimulation with proof it was wanted and that no one was harmed. When his cohost pointed out that rape victims can orgasm during an assault, he dismissed it.
California's Women's List, a "Political Action Committee dedicated to fundraising for, supporting, and electing pro-choice, Democratic women to office in California," according to its website, has denounced Sanders's endorsement.
"California Women's List is disappointed in Senator Sanders' endorsement of Cenk Uygur, a candidate who has repeatedly used misogynistic, racist, and homophobic language. This endorsement appears to go against Senator Sanders' platform and role as a leader in the progressive movement," CWL's Board President Emily Zahn told The Advocate in a statement.
In 2017, when Uygur's history of troubling comments surfaced, he was pushed out of Justice Democrats, which he helped to found. Among the blog posts that surfaced at the time was one from 1999 in which he complained on a trip to Miami that women were flawed because he was not getting enough sex.
"Obviously, the genes of women are flawed," Uygur wrote. "They are poorly designed creatures who do not want to have sex nearly as often as needed for the human race to get along peaceably and fruitfully."